Public Comment

Richmond Council Fails to Pass Sustainable Marijuana Ordinance

By Tom Butt, Richmond City Council
Saturday September 17, 2011 - 09:26:00 AM

There are clearly different shades of green on the Richmond City Council.

There are those greens who believe global climate change is truly a crisis that we must address at every level of government – and quickly. Then there are those for whom the green of cannabis eclipses the more global meaning of green. And finally, there is the green of money – lots of it – including tens of thousands of dollars from the cannabis industry that has found its way into some council members’ campaign coffers.

Failing to pass the sustainable marijuana ordinance was a disappointment for me. The Richmond City Council has been “high” on marijuana for some time, paving the way for three licenses that are now in the application stage. At least a couple of Council members want to increase that to four, on the theory that if three is good, four is better. At least one councilmember touts marijuana dispensaries as veritable police substations, making areas of Richmond in the vicinity of a dispensary the safest of all.

Now, I really don’t care who smokes weed or why they do it, other than minors, but I remain skeptical about the hypocritical institutionalizing of an industry that characterizes itself as the epitome of healthy living and natural holistic medicine when it is really mostly about money – lots of it.

I introduced the “green” marijuana ordinance after reading a paper, “Energy Up in Smoke, The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production,” (April 5, 2011) by Evan Mills, Ph.D. a long-time energy analyst and Staff Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California. 

Mills finds that indoor Cannabis production results in energy expenditures of $5 billion each year, with electricity use equivalent to that of 2 million average U.S. homes. This corresponds to 1% of national electricity consumption or 2% of that in households. The yearly greenhouse-gas pollution (carbon dioxide, CO2 ) from the electricity plus associated transportation fuels equals that of 3 million cars. Energy costs constitute a quarter of wholesale value. In California, the top-producing state—and one of 17 states to allow cultivation for medical purposes—the practice is responsible for about 3% of all electricity use or 8% of household use. Due to higher electricity prices and cleaner fuels used to make electricity, California incurs 70% of national energy costs but only 20% of national CO2 emissions. From the perspective of individual consumers, a single Cannabis cigarette represents 2 pounds of CO2 emissions, an amount equal to running a 100-watt light bulb for 17 hours with average U.S. electricity (or 30 hours on California’s cleaner grid). Each four-by-four-foot production module doubles the electricity use of an average U.S. home and triples that of an average California home. The added electricity use is equivalent to running about 30 refrigerators. Processed Cannabis results in 3000-times its weight in CO2 emissions. For off-grid production, it requires 70 gallons of diesel fuel to produce one indoor Cannabis plant, or 140 gallons with smaller, less-efficient gasoline generators. 

The Richmond City Council has supported dozens of environmental initiatives designed to make Richmond a leader in sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction. For examples, see City of Richmond Environmental Initiatives. But when being green bumped up against the different shade of green of the marijuana industry, pot clearly prevailed at the Richmond City Council. 

For the entire report on this agenda item, see: INTRODUCE an ordinance (first reading) amending Richmond Municipal Code Section 7.102.060 (concerning the operations of Medical Marijuana Collectives) to require Collectives operating within the city to obtain their marijuana from those who grow outdoors without artificial lights, or who grow indoors using only solar-powered artificial lighting> 

Vice Mayor Butt (620-6851). Mayor McLaughlin and Jeff Ritterman supported the “green” marijuana ordinance, but it lost on a 3-1-2 vote. In another agenda item, the City Council reversed an administrative decision by the Police Department to allow an applicant who missed a deadline for an application fee to continue to compete for one of the three coveted Richmond marijuana dispensary licenses. This is when it was suggested that going to four licenses would mitigate the impact on those applicants who filed on time. 

Last year, I was the author of a measure to allow the voters to establish Richmond’s tax on medicinal marijuana sales at 10%, but the City Council knocked it back to 5%. That extra money would have hired more cops, paved streets and kept libraries open longer, but the Council was reluctant to erect too many barriers between a stoner and his medicine. At the same time, Sacramento and San Jose voters passed 10% taxes. 


San Jose is reducing its dispensaries from an estimated 140 to just ten, creating a ratio of about one dispensary for each 50,000 people. Richmond now allows three, a ratio of one per 34,000 people. As I said before, some council members want to increase it to one per 26,000 people. There must be a lot more sick people in Richmond than in San Jose.